I was really surprised when my friend Csaba showed me this George Washington statue as we were touring Budapest. You don’t really expect to find many statues of ol’ G. Dub outside the U.S. The statue was erected in 1906 for several reasons: as a sign of unity between the U.S. and Hungary; to honor George Washington, the father of American democracy, who inspired many Hungarians who held democratic ideals; and to express gratitude to the U.S. for providing many Hungarians with the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. and start their lives anew. More information on the statue, which is located in Budapest’s City Park, can be found here.
This memorial to the Soviet Red Army is situated in Freedom Square (Szabadság tér) in Budapest, Hungary. If you are familiar with World War II and Hungarian history, you will not be surprised to learn that this memorial is quite contentious and is often defaced. It is the last Soviet memorial standing in the city, as the rest have been carted off to Statue Park. The below article gives more information on controversy surrounding the monument:
If some Hungarians get their way, the last Soviet statue in Budapest will be carted off to join busts of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and other communists in a monument graveyard on the edge of town.
Their campaign is angering Russia. Relations between the two countries, already chilly after Russia twice interrupted gas and oil supplies to its former satellite states, may cool further if the drive to tear down the memorial succeeds.
“This is an unworthy sacrilege,” said Igor Savolsky, Russia’s ambassador to Hungary. “If this statue is removed, it would greatly worsen the atmosphere of binary relations.”
The 16-foot-tall (5-meter-tall) statue has sat on the same spot since 1945, in tribute to the Red Army troops who died while seizing the city from the Nazis.
The World Federation of Hungarians, a nationalist group, is lobbying the main opposition party, Fidesz, to include the marble obelisk’s ouster in a referendum later this year.
“The fact that it’s still standing after 1989 is an insult,” said Janos Meszaros, 27, an engineering student, while standing next to the memorial in Szabadsag ter, or Freedom Square. “The communists ruined Hungary. This statue reminds me of it.”
The Hungarian government says the hammer-and-sickle-adorned monument is protected by a treaty with Russia and isn’t going anywhere. Anti-government rioters attacked the memorial last year, scratching off a carving of Russian troops. Since then, it has been surrounded by two layers of iron fencing and patrolled by police.
Well, as you can tell from my previous post, I am back from Budapest and will now write a more detailed entry of my time spent in that lovely city.
First, though, a bit about the last day of Lent term. It was a beautiful day in London…the sun was shining, which, let me tell you, has not happened often in these past few months, and in general, the city’s population seemed to be in an entirely different, positive mood. Amazing what a change in weather can do. I turned in my final paper at 3:15, a mere 15 minutes before the due time of 3:30, yes! After turning in our papers, all of us (us being the RPSS program students) got together at the Three Tuns (student pub on campus), where we enjoyed 50 quid (around $100) of free drinks thanks to Crystal and her predisposition towards entering contests. After numerous pints of Strongbow and snakebites (oh, snakebite, how I love thee!) we headed off for dinner, and afterwards I went back to Bankside to pack. My plane was leaving at 8am, ugh, and I had to catch the bus to London-Luton airport at 5:35am. I thought that two hours of sleep would be sufficient, and was about to fall asleep when I was awoken by the piercing noise of the Bankside fire alarm! ACK! So, out I stumble onto the street, cursing the gods of fate who have seen fit to deprive me of sleep. (Note to whoever set the alarm off intentionally: there is a special place in hell reserved for people like you). Quite frankly, the constant fire alarms are out of control. We had one on Monday, too, around 2:30am. RIDICULOUS. So, I propose that the Bankside management institute some sort of punishment for the idiots that intentionally set off the alarms, or choose to burn incense sticks at 2:30 in the morning…I think the following would be quite proper, and hey, it’s English!
Anyways, I took the 5:35am bus to Luton, got on the plane (I flew WizzAir – it’s like the Southwest Airlines of Eastern Europe), and landed in Hungary. The passport control guy spent a while looking at my passport, shining a light on it, flipping through the pages, scrutinizing my Russian visa and Moscow residency permit, which was cool, because I love standing there, wondering if they are going to let me into the country.
Our group (oh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention, this trip was organized by the LSE Central and Eastern European Development Society) stayed at the Yellow Submarine Hostel. Yes, I fly on WizzAir and stayed at the Yellow Submarine Hostel…amusing, no?
Here’s my room:
Ah yes, all the comforts you could expect from an Eastern European hostel.
So, what did I see in Budapest? A LOT.
Walked along the Danube River
Visited Statue Park, a large collection of socialist-realism sculptures and monuments from the communist era.
Purchased a Trabant. Like my new car? Heh, just kidding…this was at Statue Park.
Visited St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is home to St. Stephen’s mummified right hand (see below)
Visited Castle Hill, which has some AMAZING views of Budapest (and an awesome military history museum!):
Got my picture taken with George Washington in City Park:
Visited an old castle in Tata:
Hiked up to the Citadel to watch the sunset over Budapest:
(That is the Soviet liberation monument for World War II)
Visited the House of Terror:
I’ve been to a lot of museums, but I must say that the House of Terror ranks up there with the best of them, so I’ll expand a bit on what exactly it is. This building, located at 60 Andrassy Avenue, has a quite sinister past: it was the headquarters for both the Hungarian Nazi Party (Arrow Cross Party), and afterwards, the Communist regime’s secret police. Unfortunately, they don’t allow you take photographs inside, so I’ll “borrow” some from their website to let you know what I’m talking about.
First, when you enter the museum and purchase your tickets, you are greeted by a huge Soviet tank from the 1956 revolution. It is sitting in a pool of thick, oily liquid that is dripping down into the floors below, and the walls are lined with photos of people that died in the building:
The museum is divided into two parts, one dealing with the Nazi era and the other dealing with the Communist. One of the most interesting rooms was called “double occupation”, which had plasma TVs on each side of a wall in the center of the room. One side was showing clips from the Soviet Union, and the other from Nazi Germany. It’s quite obvious that a lot of money and work has been put into this museum, as it is quite modern. Another interesting room was the gulag room, which had TVs on both sides showing passing countryside (as if you were riding on a train). The carpet was a map of the Soviet Union, with conical shaped display cases that held letters from Gulag prisoners, clothing items, etc.
The most powerful exhibit, though, was in the basement, which contains the prison cells that political prisoners were tortured in.
In many books I’ve read about the Soviet gulags, they describe the various cells and methods of torture they used on prisoners. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what the cell would look like, but at the House of Terror, they were all there, every single one I had read about in my history books. The cell that you can not sit or lay down in – only stand, or the one that is filled with a foot of water, and the other that is barely three feet high. Each cell had pictures of the people that died there…to say it was a powerful exhibit would be an understatement. It wasn’t the “haha, this is fun” of the solitary confinement cells on Alcatraz, but rather an “Oh my God…” It made me wonder if the Russians will ever turn Lubyanka into a similiar museum, but with the current administration, I doubt it won’t happen for a very long time. Instead, politicians bicker over returning Dzerzhinsky’s statue to Lubyanskaya Ploshchad, and the victims of the Soviet regime get nothing more than a simple, neglected monument off to the side.
Back to the museum, though…another room in the basement was dedicated to the Hungarians that left the country. The whole room is covered with reproductions of postcards they sent to their relatives back home in Hungary, and it was quite weird to pick out the places I knew: LA, Big Bear, Solvang, Orange County, etc.
The end of the tour necessitated a trip to the gift shop, which, oddly enough, was full of communist kitsch such as Stalin bottle openers, Lenin hair clips, and other various souvenirs that look like they came from a Moscow souvenir market. Seems a bit out of place for a museum dedicated to Nazi and Soviet terror, no? I didn’t buy anything, but I must admit that the Stalin candle was tempting, as who wouldn’t want to watch the Vozhd slowly melt away?
I’ve uploaded all my Budapest photos to my album, so check those out if you’d like to see some of the other sites I visited (instead of me rambling on and on about everything we did, which would add to an already way too long blog entry).
One last thing, though. The food in Hungary is amazing. We ate at this place called Sir Lancelot’s, where the waiters bring out this 4 foot board filled with chicken, pork, steak, fish, veggies, fruit, etc. Soooooo good. Oh, and there are no forks so you have to eat with your hands…reminded me of Medieval Times in Anaheim without the hokey jousting show. The best, though, was an authentic Hungarian meal prepared by Csaba’s mom. Delicious! Hungarian hospitality is amazing…truly amazing.
Oh, and on a random note, as we were leaving the hostel, I spotted a white car with “Office Depot” emblazoned on the side doors. Also, on the train to Tatabanya, I saw an Office Depot from afar! I kid you not…first the UK, France, and now Hungary (Unfortunately, did not get a pic of the car in Hungary). Ironic, as the Lindsay Fincher World Tour 2005 is sponsored by Office Depot, or, at least, the money I earned while working at office supply hell.
Also, I managed to pick up some Hungarian while I was there, and when I say “some” I mean three words: jo (good), igen (yes), and nem (no). A few more trips to Hungary and I’ll be fluent!
OK, so, in conclusion, if you have a chance to visit Budapest, GO! You will have a great time, I assure you!
In short, it is a beautiful city with friendly people and delicious food! I’ll write a more detailed entry later and post some pics. Going to Brussels next, March 28-30.
For now, here is a pic of me with a Communist-era statue called The Martyr, which is located in Statue Park, a park outside the city where all the socialist relics go to die.